Monday, July 31, 2006

School Kids Should Learn to Change a Nappy

Here's The Times for the full story. The thing is, if school kids weren't closetted away in a classroom, surrounded only by their own peer group, they most likely would know how to do this already. The question that springs to mind...why try to solve a problem that there were dubious reasons for creating in the first place?

And how are the Professional Teachers from their Association going to solve this predicament? Where, after all, are they going to get bundles of willing babies to be handed out to a classroom of teens? Hmmm...already sounds as if they are missing the point.

One of the very striking things about most home educated kids is that they do know how to care for younger children. Young girls spend long periods with dolls stuck up their shirts and telling people to sush because dolly is napping. Boys walk real-life toddlers through pedestrian precincts and lift them up to look in windows. Same boys help with feeding, changing nappies and playing footie. What is more, they know that you have to have a proper, trusting relationship with infants, which of course is not something that happens in a one hour lesson.

A proper understanding of what it means to be responsible for a child can't possibly be learnt in a classroom and is yet another vivid example of how schools can impoverish learning.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Children's Database: a Small Time Waste of Cash

From the Spectator review of the book "Plundering the Public Sector" by Craig David and Richard Brooks:

"To list just a handful of the disasters cited in this book: the new system for magistrates courts is £200 million over budget and massively behind schedule; GCHQ is £400 million over the original "£21 million budget; benefit cards were scrapped after £698 million had been wasted.

"There is chaos everywhere, from Customs and Excise to the Child Support Agency, from the inland Revenue to the Department of work and Pensions. During Prime Minister's Questions last month Tony Blair was invited to cite 'any major Government IT project that had been delivered on budget or on time.' He came up with the passport system. The fact that this was the best example the Prime Minister could find shows the awesome scale of the problem. The passport system was neither on time nor on budget. In fact it was scandalously delayed - with massive backlogs during the summer of 1999 - and well over budget. It was, however, nowhere near as bad as the calamitous new 'connecting for health' IT system for the health service. It now looks likely that the entire scheme, budgeted at a staggering £30 billion and rising, may turn out to be useless."

Lack of accountability and conflicts of interests of those who are meant to scrutinize the system are partly the cause of this scandalous situation. It shouldn't be left to disgusted of Tunbridge Wells to be kicking up a stink about this. We should all be furious.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Economical with the Truth

Home educating dad, who happens to work as a caver/tour guide/geology know-it-all admitted yesterday (under duress from picky, prosaic HE mums) that he didn't tell a group of Mormons that the caves they were squeezing themselves through were approximately 200 million years old, despite this being his normal patter.

Hmm. I guess you have to be sympathetic on this occasion. He was one amongst 16, and they were in a tight spot.

Truancy Sweeps Update

ARCH has the update on the insider view of truancy sweeps. Apparently

"1 truant is found for every 82 minutes of police time"

from which we can deduce that it has very little to do with getting kids back into school and everything to do with trying to give them the impression that they shouldn't get out in the first place.

I wonder if it really works that way? My guess is that any half-savvy child with an inclination (or rather a good reason) for truanting, will know where to hide, whilst innocent families, including home educating ones, who don't want to feel guilty and don't want to have to scurry about pretending not to be there, will choose not to go out during school hours. I have to admit: despite knowing there is a low likelihood of being stopped, when we have the choice, we go into town after 15.30.

Yep, it looks as if the truancy sweeps probably don't work any which way you look at it. They don't work because the numbers actually returned to school are miniscule. They don't work as a deterrent because those who are going to truant will find ways to do it that mean they don't get caught and they don't work because they terrify the pants off law-abiding citizens for no good reason at all. They also don't work because the money could be used much more effectively to support the education of a truanting child.

eg: our LA actually does something useful for a change and funds tutors for some kids who refuse to go to school. This has worked very well in some instances we know of.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hetty Sings

There's no need to regret missing Hetty at HES FES any more. Here she is, this tiny slip of a person with a most wonderful voice, singing some great songs.

The penultimate piece, at c11 and1/2 mins tells the early part of the story. Thankfully it does, in reality, have a happy ending and home education was it!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Education System in Meltdown

Tim Worstall at the Adam Smith Blog notes the unqualified failure of state education in the UK, calling it:

"grounds for a bloody revolution that a full eleven years of compulsory state education fail to equip such numbers for the most basic tasks of life."

We have also heard from a reliable source that a certain very senior minister in the education department fully agrees with Tim Worstall's assessment of the situation. He was heard to say that the education system is in complete meltdown and in need of a radical shake-up.

Tim suggests the voucher system as a possible solution, saying that this

"might work rather better than what Alan Johnson is suggesting, which is that private schools in the UK should lose their charitable status if they do not share their facilities more widely with the State system. The argument being that such charitable status is a subsidy.Which leads to an observation that here in the UK the government is doing something very odd. Arguing that we should remove subsidy from that part of the education system which works and increase it to that part which does not."

Home educators can't help shaking their heads in wonder at all this confusion. When will the proper implications of the Information Age finally sink in, we wonder? But good to know that the ptb can't in all honesty go about encouraging LAs to slap School Attendance Orders on us.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Younger Child Advantage

She's done it! Dd can swim ON TOP of the water and she's delighted with herself. Swimming underwater was fun, but she clearly sensed she was missing stuff that was going on over her head - which is after all, the perennial problem for the younger child.

Of course, there are advantages in being the youngest. She is so utterly determined to do stuff in order that she is able to join in, that she gets there pdq. There are the occasional bouts of frustration but almost no real anxiety. Total, unwavering belief in her capacity to do is peculiar this child of mine.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why I Love England (or Not, as the Case May Be).

The following was written in response to the above question as posed by Dave Hill of Temperama.

I've been wondering - could it be that loving one's country, like loving one's kids, is the kind of thing that it's pretty easy to accomplish alarmingly badly? After all, it's seriously tempting to go about both enterprises in a thoroughly narcissistic fashion, it being so much fun broadcasting one's gargantuan pride in one's love object and basking in the supposed reflected glory. But then to this end, a narcissist must distort his representation of the victim, aggrandizing the poor flunky into a near-total fiction. And the sad thing is that there can be nasty consequences. A child who suffers this sort of treatment will most likely develop either a crippling sense of failure, his own narcissistic defenses or quite probably a bit of both. In the case of love of country, such behavior is probably a significant factor in starting wars.

Of course, it is perfectly possible to love both children and country without scrabbling around to fulfill the need for personal aggrandizement. This grown-up kind of love involves an inclination to see things as accurately as possible, and like as not, also working to make good.

Problem is, I do love England narcissistically. Don't seem to be able to help it. In equally dubious taste, I frequently love manifestations of narcissism in England. My life is ridiculously improved by neo-classical edifices rearing up out of deer-strewn parklands. I hanker after crumbling castles and cloisters of Gothic cathedrals. It's bad really seeing as it is all extremely dodgy ethically. Basically it seems I love to introject and crow about these patron-promoting bits of puff which also happen to be products of feudal/aristocratic societies.

But I do actually manage a more meaningful relationship with England and this time, I acknowledge more accurately what I'm getting into. I'm talking here about the issue of freedom for families and the related matter of parental responsibility, particularly in the light of child welfare/education law. This is a proper relationship: I appreciate the good and recognize the bad. I fret about the bad, but I don't hate England for these faults.

For the good news, it is the case that the English have, until recently, had reasonable grounds to think that they may have some sort of private life, and that parents have a right to educate their children as they themselves see fit.

For the bad news: it is clear that the situation is getting murky in these areas. We stand on the brink of significant changes as a result of which we may well lose all reasonable hope of a private life, and effectively hand over responsibility for the welfare and education of our children to the state. We are teetering on the very edge of this abyss, and the situation is not helped by the fact that most families are not even vaguely aware of the threat. We should be putting up warning signs all over the place.

Back to the good news, it is still the case that parents are in law responsible for the education of their children. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 still stands and states:

"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable - (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

For the bad, we have the Children Act of 2004 in which, in the most apparently consoling sort of a way, the State, probably entirely by accident, effectively steals responsibility for children from parents.

In broad intent, the act places a duty on Local Authorities to make arrangements through which various agencies co-operate to improve the well-being of children and young people. The result? LAs are now required by their own inspectorate, (something newly called a Joint Area Review), to amongst many other things, provide services to ensure that children are ready for school, enjoy recreation, achieve stretching national education standards, develop positive relationships, self-confidence and enterprising behavior. LAs are also required to know what percentage of children are getting their five portions of fruit and veg per day.

Section 10(3) in the act carries the acknowledgement that in making arrangements, children's services authorities must have regard to the importance of the role of parents and carers in improving the well-being of children, but in this very assertion you sense the threat to the position of parental responsibility. Acknowledging the importance of parental contribution is an entirely different thing to asserting explicitly that parents have primary responsibility and in the failure to say this, and despite the 1996 Education Act, we sense the ever increasing encroachment upon the duties that we as parents should rightfully have taken upon ourselves.

So at what point do parents actually lose primary responsibility? Once the machinery of the univeral database (see section 12) is up and running, the state will, if the database works (which is admittedly very doubtful), not only have the capacity and the duty to provide for the safety, happiness and general well-being of all our children, they will also become the ultimate arbiters of whether these objectives have been achieved.

What role is left for parents? Not much, I'd say. Can we really be deemed responsible for children when they are compelled to live a life that we haven't necessarily chosen and which is judged by criteria with which we may not agree? Do we really feel that someone as remote from our own personal beliefs, motivations, personalities, behaviors should decide how our children should conduct their lives? By way of just one example, we still must have daily acts of worship that are broadly Christian in nature in schools. All well and good if this is your belief structure but potentially thoroughly confusing if your parents happen to be critical rationalists, humanists, atheists, Jews, Buddhists - what have you.

A wedge is being driven between children and their parents and the more people realise quite how much we are losing, the better it will be for everyone since it should hopefully prompt us to kick up a stink. After all, we should be prepared to fight for the things we love properly - for the warts and all.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Home Education in France - Not a Real Option

This person, a dear friend of yore, now routinely playing lyrical love songs to big crowds in France and recently at the Hammersmith Apollo, wanted to home educate his son in France but reports that it just isn't on: too little HE activity and support, too much having to report yourself to the mayor and get his permission, too many unavoidable state exams etc. Hardly worth it, it seems.

Looks like the liberte (can't find the accents) side of things got rather subsumed by the inclination for egalite. Shame on France.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Paragon of Ambiguity

So here it is: the Statutory Instrument regarding Pupil Registration Regulations.

Make of it what you will. The local authorities sure will.

The principle areas of concern to home educators: is there or is there not potential for schools to introduce a delay between parental notification of de-registration from school and removal from the register, and who is actually responsible for registering a child at a school in the first place?

Both of the above ambiguities in the SI will surely allow for abuse of the principle of parental responsibility for education of children, which (believe it or not - and in a spirit that is directly contradictory to elements of the Children Act 2004), is still enshrined in Section 7 of 1996 Education Act as quoted below in the manner of a consoling mantra:


"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

Thursday, July 20, 2006


We were playing at the base of a vertical sandstone cliff yesterday when it started to dribble small chunks. Toddlers were unceremoniously grabbed off the rock face and hearts in mouths, we yelled at the older ones to leg it since we had already noted the recent falls of blocks the size of armchairs.

I have a much nicer sense of excitement about the potential landslide that may just be dribbling into existence in the North West London area. Sister put up a notice in a park there advertising a home educators' toddler group and it resulted in her taking quite a number of calls in a very short space of time. At this rate, the schools round there will be feeling the impact from HEors within the next couple of years, which is a great feeling.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blogging Break

The children, dogs and I are off for another quick camping expedition. Contrary to all expectations, we have found that we can get everything into my car, though of course, this sadly does entail leaving Dh behind. He has been terribly helpful with the packing. Why would this be?

Hopefully see you Wed, though we may be delayed with things like trailer purchaces and such like.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Freedom in Every Part of Life

I've done it! The essay for Unschooling Voices - my attempt to answer to the question: "Do you extend the principles of unschooling (trust, freedom, etc) into any other areas of your child's life?" And you know what? Although I've known this stuff for a while and it underpins more or less everything that we strive to do, it was good to remind myself exactly why we bother!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This is one of those questions that when asked by the unschooling uninitiated and then answered honestly by an autonomous educator has a tendency to induce a strange sort of contortion on the face of the questioner as they try to suppress what looks like apoplexy, for it is indeed the case that the simple answer is "Yes, into all of them" but that this reply is often seemingly way too irresponsible to be countenanced calmly. To remedy this situation, a welter of explanations are usually due but even this may not be enough, since a proper comprehension of the idea that a child should have freedom in all areas of his life often requires the toppling of many long-cherished beliefs, the unpacking of a bundle of theories that are predicated upon the idea that a child must be controlled, the building of an understanding of the theories that underpin freedom for children, and an ability to cope with the pain of looking squarely at the fact that one may have wronged one's child, and indeed may have suffered wrongs done to oneself. This is a lot to ask, and it often takes some time.

But the simple fact is that my answer to the question is "yes" or at least "yes, I do TRY to facilitate freedom in every area of their lives", for of course I do fail, though this failure does not usually disable me with guilt, for I know that I aim high and that failure is difficult to avoid.

So why should I take such a seemingly ridiculous stance? Afterall, children are not rational beings and therefore, by most assessments, cannot be deemed worthy of freedom. They must be controlled, otherwise they would do things like run under buses. They would stuff themselves with sugar at every possible opportunity. They would drop out of trees, off cliffs, eat wasps and pigeon poo, stuff their fingers in sockets, refuse to learn to read, take the TV apart, beat up their siblings, veg out on the sofa all day, set fire to themselves and the house and generally bring on the apocalypse.

But just hold on a second! The assumption that children are not rational beings is based upon instances when perhaps they are not so, but this doesn't mean that they are incapable of rationality and indeed many of the above activities may have contained a core of rationality, say one of rational intent that simply got played out irrationally, for it is actually the case that children are often very keen to acquire the skills of reason, of being able to understand the universe as clearly as possible, of being able to act effectively in it.

It is this inclination towards reason that a parent can tap into and help flourish in the cause of freedom for children. So a kid wants to find out what bird poo tastes like? His parent can save him the trouble when she tells him it probably doesn't taste so good, and may give him a nasty bug, wouldn't he prefer something more obviously tasty and edible? Why then would he choose the poo? You haven't limited his freedom, you haven't coerced him. You have jointly and rationally found a common preference. Or say, a child wants to get to the other side of the road, but doesn't see the on-coming bus. Catching him by the hand, and then helping him safely across is not limiting his freedom: it is facilitating it, for he, as like as not, didn't want to get squashed.

We see here that the role of the parent is one of facilitator in the cause of freedom for children. And the value of doing all this? Well, this particular definition of freedom implies that a child be free of coercion. If we take it that coercion may be defined as "being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind, which therefore limits the capacity for reason and creativity", we can infer that when a child is free to act as he will, he is more likely to explore theories that are active in his head. Since the thought he is enacting is the one that is at the front of his mind, he is much more likely to be able to subject this theory to rational criticism and creative growth. It seems therefore that being free to enact active theories is the quickest and most effective way to learn.

I don't know where the Sunday Times got this little nugget from, (and I strongly suspect that the accusation of pseudo-science could be rightfully hurled at it) but it nonetheless seems to represent an empirical truth: "Comparative studies show that formal learning has an efficiency rate of around 5-10%. Pupils taught through conversation and discussion remember up to 40% more". So what is the actual difference here? The difference is that a conversation (unlike formal learning) is a two-way process where the child has the opportunity to ask the questions that he wants answered, to pursue his interests, to follow his active theories. A parent who wants to facilitate a child's freedom must therefore be responsive to a child's enquiries.

Indeed a parent may perhaps be wise not only facilitate the present interests of the child, but also to offer new stuff that they think may be of further interest to the child. As David Friedman said of his homeschooling tactics, parents should "throw books at them and see which ones stick". (Incidentally, Dr. Friedman's post is well worth reading, particularly for those who worry about what kind of knowledge an unschooling child is likely to acquire, since he presents a neatly phrased argument against the notion of the usefulness of a standard curriculum.)

It is obvious from the above that helping children to live in freedom is not a matter of neglecting them and letting them run wild, as is so often assumed. Instead a child needs help to develop reason and understanding and this requires active and attentive parenting.

Another valuable component in all this is that the parent recognise their own fallibility, for not only is it possible for parents to get things objectively wrong, eg: perhaps that chocolate bar would indeed be just the right thing for little Johnny at this particular moment...(since chocolate is indeed known to be capable of improving immunity, reducing stress, making someone more alert, providing iron, being good for the heart, and if the sugar is used in high activity, it doesn't result in an insulin-induced hypoglycemia etc, etc), but we also should recognise the tentative nature of all knowledge. Afterall, we can never be sure that we have apprehended reality correctly. The principles of reason do seem to work well, but there is never any sure-fire justification for this belief. Generally speaking, humility is a useful tool when it comes to seeking to understand the thinking of a child. He may just be more right than we know!

Further, it is the case that an autonomous educator does not make any distinction between life and learning. We believe that theory acquisition should be going on all the time. Rational thought, conjecture and refutation are processes that are best applied to all areas of life. Learning is integral to the whole of life.

All of the above is meant by way of an explanation to underpin a closer answer to the original question. Since we believe that theory acquisition goes on all the time and applies to all areas of life and that freedom is an essential component of learning, why would I only allow it in certain areas of my children's lives? To suddenly restrict the possibility of freedom, is to wantonly and without reason, limit a child's capacity to learn.

The question also raises the issue of how genuine freedom can be constructed. For example, is it possible to say that a prisoner is free when he has twenty minutes to do what he likes in the prison yard? I would say "no" for though his warders may fondly imagine that they have given him a space to explore his freedom, the prisoner knows that this will be taken away again and this will colour his experience of his nominally free time. It may also be the case that he did not want to go to the yard at all, so he does not experience this time as freedom at all. Proper freedom is not something that someone else can give to someone else, since in the very act of apparently granting it, true autonomy is compromised. Rather one may help facilitate freedom for another, but for it to be real and meaningful, it must be a choice by the person themselves, and he must be able to extend it into all areas of his life.

Freedom gives a person a chance to explore big questions, the ones that he will need to face in order to decide how he should be in this world or the next. He will need to address issues such as the purpose of his life, how he can best work to meet this purpose, how he can best take responsibility for his choices. What better way to do this than as a child with the help of a loving parent? Not only that but with the chance to experience freedom in safety, children have a good shot at realising how wonderful the world can be.

For more information on theories of learning and knowledge and how they relate to parents and children, visit the Taking Children Seriously website.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Oh NO! Not Another One.

Take a wild guess as to what I might be talking about...yes, you got it,'s another database. This time by way of a bit of variety, it is referred to as a "register" , but I can't for the life of me spot the difference.

This one's apparently all about identifying the most gifted kids in order that may be brought on, and it is possible to see where this idea's coming from. There is, afterall, a huge shortage of pupils taking hard subjects like physics and chemistry. Some cynics seem to think that this is a result of schools encouraging students to take the Mickey Mouse subjects so that their league table results look good, so if you could reliably spot the wunderkind, schools perhaps would dare to do the necessary, and churn out the boffins.

Hmm, from an autonomous educator point of view, it all looks screwy. Aside from thinking that exam results are a very poor way of picking up people who are genuinely good at solving real problems, we wonder why on earth children have to be intruded upon, codified, reduced to a number and implicitly humiliated in this way, when a highly motivated child will just get on with the job of solving the problems he wants to solve without any outside assessment of his intelligence.

But then again, with the demotivating effect that is most schooling, you can again see why this sort of desperate attempt to patch up a problem would be deemed necessary.

On Top of the Heap

From USA Today, psychiatrist Dr. Robert E. Kay on home schooling:

"In its debate on schools and homework, USA TODAY might have mentioned those who never go to "school" at all: the home-schoolers. They, in my view, are on top of the heap socially, psychologically, physically, intellectually and academically.

As for children in traditional schools, coercion, homework, testing, report cards and a forgettable curriculum tend to make those passive, bored and sullen kids "hate" school, their teachers, learning, books and then their parents.

What's more, about a third of college graduates are proficiently literate, down from 40% in 1992, according to the latest National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

The solution — stop schooling and start educating by:
• Abolishing all quizzes before those necessary final exams.
• Stimulating students with lessons involving art, music, theater, sports,
museums, good books, periodicals and technology, along with math games, choral reading and assisted writing.

The only "problem": I, and many prison guards, are then apt to be unemployed!"

Tee hee...Yup, as Daryl suggested, there seems to be scope for a new HE epithet: "Do a Psychiatrist Out of a Job - Home Educate".

Monday, July 10, 2006

ID Cards on the Rocks

It looks as if the wise people from the LSE are going to be proved completely right on the matter of ID cards. Let's hope government starts to listen to them on the other little matter of the £224 million children's database.

Dates for the Diary

...if only we were anywhere near Santa Clara, Ca, mid-August time: a conference entitled Autonomy in the Family.

Realistically, we are more likely to make this this one: on a so far unspecified date, central London, a protest about the inability to protest in the vicinity of the houses of Parliament. Hopefully 6000 people will form a human chain around the exclusion zone.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Death Knell of Home Schooling

Samizdata has a very dark take on the situation for home schooling once the database kicks in, though some commentators were more optimistic. Chris Harper wrote:

"This will result in so many screwups that it will help undermine the whole nanny state.
Once social workers and human rights lawyers and labour councilors start being subjected to NuLab controls on their private lives even they will start questioning these restrictions.
The one group any government can't afford to piss off is the educated middle class. They will fight, and they will win."

I guess we just must make this happen.

Unschooling Voices

Joanne hosted the intriguing Unschooling Voices, No 1 last month. We have missed the July deadline, but the August prompt question seems very tempting and an opportunity perhaps for UK autonomous educators to explain what they get up to. The question, which can be found through this link, is: "Do you extend the principles of unschooling (trust, freedom, etc) into any other areas of your child's life?"

I feel the urge to knuckle down to this one, autonomously - of course. Anyone else care to join if you are not a blogger, I could forward essays through here...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Nanny Knows Nothing

The assumption that fruit and vegetables are essential ingredients for any pretence at longevity is just that - an assumption. From Reddy Welcomes You, we hear that:

"The Campbell brothers of Aberdeen, Scotland, have all somehow or other defied medical advice to live to ripe old ages, despite the fact that John, 91, Jim, 88, Colin, 85, Sid, 82, and Doug, 78, have spurned vegetables in all their guises.

“They're a pain,'' John told the papers. “I've never liked them and I avoid them all the time. I can't think of anything worse than a plate of carrots.''"

Of course, there are quite a number of whole populations who would fail the UK government's five a day requirement and would end up flagged on our database, should they choose, rashly it would seem, to imigrate here. Reddy mentions some of these, ie: the Inuit, the Masai and pockets of people in remote Swiss villages, but I'm sure there are many others.

But why am I arguing this way at all? If people chose not to eat fs and vs that's their business, (though I have to say it would nice if they did contribute to their health care expenses).

What Data Collection Could Do For Us

If the database works as it is meant to, this won't be far from being spot-on.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Have You Had Your Five Portions?

ARCH have commented below to set me right on the matter of whether or not the Every Child Matters agenda will include a remit for the state to collect details on the amount of fruit and veg our children consume per day. No wonder I was confused. Whilst we heard from the Beeb, amongst other sources, that "the Department for Education and Skills denied the database would include this type of information", it seems that the local authorities will indeed be required to collect exactly this type of information if they are to pass their own inspection processes. So whilst information about fruit and veg consumption will not be stored on that particular database, it looks as if it will definitely be stored somewhere else on something very similar.

It is well worth repeating what ARCH have to say even if one would really rather not think about it, the implications being so scary.

Carlotta, you said: "government has actually denied that it will record whether a child is eating the prescribed amount of fruit and veg,"

For this you need to see the Public Service Agreement targets set for each local authority. these are the performance indicators on which each LA is inspected by the Joint Area Review team.
Here's the link.

In the first block of 'be healthy' indicators, it's in the 4th block of 'priority national targets'. LAs are asked to supply the percentage of children eating 5 fruit & veg a day. This information will have to be collected somehow - it's not something that can be worked out from already-held data in the way that, say, the figures for traffic accidents can.

The targets are worth a good look. Some of the data, such as school performance, will already be held. But how about 'take-up of sporting opportunities by 5-16yos' - does that mean a child will be logged every time s/he goes to the local sports centre? You can't work out the actual percentage of children using services just from broad attendance figures, because 20 children playing sport 5 nights a week would give the same result as 100 playing once, and a lot of them might not ever go near the sports centre...

It's interesting to consider the nitty-gritty of how LAs will obtain data necessary to satisfy JAR teams that they are meeting each performance indicator.

For the Record

A group of us HE parents met last night with a representative from the local Children Information Service in order that the ptb may be seen to have consulted with us when they come to implement the "Every Child Matters" agenda. I don't think any of us had any illusions. We understood that this consultation process is all window-dressing, but we will most certainly revel in it once they get their universal database up and running and we can expose this self-described caring, listening government for the fraudulent big brother that it really is.

So we did explain ourselves as clearly and as pointedly as we possibly could. The poor intermediary couldn't fail to get the various messages we put over, which were in summary:

*that if there is no reason to suppose that abuse or neglect of children is going on, then don't interfere, unless we explicitly ask for your help. Don't spend any time faffing around with functioning families because you will not only be fouling up on one of your goals, ie: ensuring enjoyment for kids, (since the stress caused by your interference will almost certainly be felt by them too), but you will also be wasting precious resources which would be far better spent helping children in real trouble.

*that there is a vast difference between bailing children out of terrible difficulty and "helping children enjoy life". The state possibly has a role in the former activity but very, very little to do with the latter. Deeming the state responsible for checking up on all these areas of our lives, via the database and the common assessment framework, is a direct route to Big Brotherdom.

*that there be greater forethought given to the type of services on offer. Various examples of failed services were the nursery system for young children, the Sure Start operation, the provision offered to disaffected teenagers.

*that home educators do not want to have to conform to government normative standards when it comes to education, socialisation, and achievement. Examples were provided as to how HE children learn and succeed. The differences were highlighted.

*that home educators generally be regarded with less suspicion and that professionals fully acknowledge that home education is equal in statute with an education provided through school.

*that information about home education be provided by various agencies to parents and children.

*that we may need help with finding examination centres for public exams, since this has proved difficult in the past.

So there it is on record. If they don't listen, and my guess is that they won't, we will be holding them to account as failed public servants.

All we really want is that Home Education, this last bastion of real freedom for families, does not disappear before our eyes, like the little diminishing dot on an old-fangled telly. Exposing the practices and manipulations of the state against innocent families who have put their case very clearly may be one way to keep the light on.

Sean Paddock Wasn't the Only One

Susan Lawrence talks about her campaign to get 'The Rod' declared unsafe by the US government. The bit that jumped out for me:

"Between one and two thousand children die every year in this country from corporal punishment. One hundred forty-two thousand are seriously injured from corporal punishment every year in America, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the New England Journal of Medicine."


The Common Assessment Framework

John Clare of Telegraph fame, lays into the Common Assessment Framework (CAF), the detailed questionnaire/assessment form that all agencies will be using to assess any child who doesn't match up to their precious five targets: enjoying and achieving, staying healthy, staying safe, achieving economic well being and making a positive contribution.

Many home educators may well be thinking "we told you so" and "why has it taken everyone else so long to wake up to the intrusive, unnecessary and expensive waste that this will be?" but I guess the best we can really do is keep shouting and hoping that this rearguard action will make a difference.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's Official: More Vetting for Home Educators

Well done, that woman. She has achieved what others have failed to do, which is to extract an admission from educrats as regards their intentions behind the introduction of the minimum two day delay in de-registration from schools:

She quotes from a letter from Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools:

"Whilst we accept that the majority of parents who educate their children at home do so well, there is a small minority who do not. It is important that local authorities are able to intervene as early as possible to protect these children’s education. The requirement for advance notice of the deletion ensures that the authorities are aware of such cases and, only where necessary, are able to intervene. "

Right, so forgetting the euphemisms, if LA bods adopt a remit to intervene in cases where they think that a child is not going to be educated according to their criteria, this implies that they/and or schools will need to assess every single family who de-registers from school, in effect resulting in vetting of all home educating families who have ever been in the school system.

It is almost a relief to hear of the above admission. Now at least we know where we stand and can talk sensibly about the situation. We can now be asking ourselves, can we possibly object to the stated intention to weed out of those families who will criminally neglect their children outside the school system?

The problems home educators have with the practical application of the proposals are:

Those families who are put in the position of needing to de-register their children from school are often indeed in desperate circumstances. They will often be reaching the end of their coping strategies. Assessing the situation for their ability to cope at this stage may be deeply unfair, particularly if it is the schooling system which has largely caused the distress and problems in the first place.

The above wouldn't matter if we felt that this was acknowledged and that LAs would reliably see that HE was a genuine option for such families, but we suspect that rather than risk allowing a family time to get out of the school system and to find their feet, this kind of family will be coerced or cajoled back into school, and the children may suffer extensively for this. We worry about whether LAs will choose to let this kind of family be or even instead to support them in the home environment.

Home educators are also anxious that the assessments vetting the families will suffer from the same difficulties that have plagued LA assessments of HEors for years. HEors often have first hand experience of the capricious and subjective nature of these LA assessments. Where, for example, one LA official will find the home education acceptable, another will fail the same family. Where an LA official may have a good relationship with one HE family, with the next she may appear draconian and intrusive. Home educators live on tenterhooks waiting for the next visit, or for the reaction to the report they sent in, because they know that there is little reason to think that what passed for satisfactory last time, will be deemed acceptable this time. There is often very little understanding of child-led learning amongst LA bods who are often drawn from a schooling background so that evidence that a child is doing well, if differently from a schooled child, will not necessarily be seen as satfisfactory by LA assessors. Home educators therefore quite reasonably worry that assessments of a family's ability to HE in the first place will suffer from the same kinds of subjectivity and ignorance.

I feel yet another letter coming on, but do feel it worthwhile, for we see how pressure has made a difference to the implementation of the Children's Database...more of which later.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Thought Police and the Home Educating Family

The news is that it is now standard practice to ask school kids about how they feel about their schooling. Of course, it all sounds such a charming idea, but naturally enough, we wonder if there is actually any substance to this proposal. For starters, does all that feedback actually make a blind bit of difference? And are the assessments that children provide genuinely free of their own or other people's applied assumptions about what is or isn't possible? It all looks rather doubtful. How many children, for example, are actually going to give expression to the idea "I don't want to be here at all; get me out of this hell-hole", even if in their hearts that is exactly what they would want to say?

But the point I mean to get round to is that it appears that local authorities in some areas seem to think that since these questions get asked of school children, then they should automatically get asked of Home Educated children too.

Hmmm. Just recently I have become curious as to how one should represent that game-show, two-tone BA BAAA noise that indicates some glaringly wrong answer since whenever I think about this LA ploy, I immediately experience this ear-worm playing over and over in the front of my mind so that it becomes very hard to say anything more cogent about the subject.

But here goes. Straining to hear sense through the buzzing, I would say, first off, that the LA is wrong to assume that they have any rights to ask HE kids about their education because parents (all parents) are still (in law) responsible for the education of their children. This means that when a parent decides to devolve some of that responsibility onto state-run schools, then the state does appear to have a duty to assess the efficacy of that education in various ways. However, when a parent does not devolve responsibility in this way, then the state does not have responsibilities in this area and it therefore does not have any prima facie reason for sticking it's nose in.

OK, so we aren't talking here about situations where there is reason to think that abuse and neglect are taking place. The state, in the absense of anything better, (and in my opinion there are better solutions other than the state, such as a fully functioning, mature civil society - an experienced HE group, for example), may have to get involved at this point. I am not even talking about those preliminary informal enquiries which are now deemed necessary in order to ascertain that a home educating parent is at least reasonably clued up. What I am objecting to here is the state is interfering in family life to find out whether a kid is happy with this and that, about their intimate thoughts on their family life and if that isn't a massive intrusion, I don't know what is. So my second huge objection is that this initiative is a massive invasion of privacy, not only of the family, but also of the private thoughts of private individuals.

My third objection, that one of the objectives of Every Child Matters agenda is that children ENJOY stuff. My guess is that filling in this form, (when the child realises that he is required to snitch on his parents to the state), is not the quickest way to great waves of enjoyment. You have to give the ptb credit for a neat little catch 22 which should automatically mean that HE families are bound to fail at this particular test. Why not send out an automated School Attendance Order a couple of days after sending the first form? The child is bound to be pretty miserable round that time, ergo parents have failed and school is the only answer.

Eugh. I reckon there are many more points one could make here but the buzzing is getting tedious. There is no way I am giving up on this one. My kids can fill in this form if they want to, but if there is the merest hint that they don't want to, then I am binning it and will fight this one to the bitter end.

We don't want the thought police round these parts, thanks.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sunday Times on Home Education

There's no need to rush out and buy's all here online at the Sunday Times, a pretty accurate portrayal of Home Education in the UK today. So interested to read about Lesley's son. I had no idea he had spent those lazy days staring at the ceiling!